Senator Dianne Feinstein is planning to introduce legislation designating part of the Mojave Desert off-limits to solar and wind power projects. Sen. Feinstein is concerned that the development of these projects "will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert." She is also concerned that development would break a promise to groups that donated the land. Fair enough.
However, as Fortune's Green Wombat blog reports
Although Sen. Feinstein states that she "would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of the Interior on legislation to ... encourage energy development on more suitable lands within the California desert," the offer is hollow as she fails to identify any alternative lands.
The area of the desert in dispute is some 600,000 acres formerly owned by Catellus, the real estate arm of the Union Pacific Railroad, and donated to the federal government a decade ago by the Wildlands Conservancy, a Southern California environmental group. About 210,000 of those acres are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which opened part of the land to renewable energy projects.
The Catellus land controlled by the BLM forms something of a golden triangle between the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve in Southern California and are particularly coveted for renewable energy development because of its proximity to transmission lines.
Alan Stein, a deputy district manager for the BLM in California, told Green Wombat that the solar and wind lease claims are in areas that are not designated as wilderness or critical habitat for protected species like the desert tortoise. 'This is public domain land,' he says.
It was that long ago that California was suffering from brown-outs and power shortages. Energy production, especially non-polluting production, is much needed. However, production, whether the sources are renewable or not, comes at a cost. For renewable sources, these costs can sometimes include environmental harms (Joe Guarino has recently gone to bat about this issue). Sensible policy should balance benefits with the costs; it should not be based on the fantasy that energy can be produced with no costs whatsoever.
In this case, development with the most modest impacts imaginable would occur on the most marginal land imaginable--land that is already designated for some economic uses AND that would reduce other impacts because of its proximity to existing transmission infrastructure. If the U.S. can't develop a clean, renewable facility in the middle of a desert, it's unlikely to be able to develop it anywhere.
But for Sen. Feinstein and others, maybe that's the point.
Please Sen. Feinstein, let the sunshine in.